Brain vs Brawn

Looking for the Best Exercise for Brain Health?

High intensity interval training (HIIT) just got another boost in the scientific literature. A new study in Experimental Biology and Medicine tells us that HIIT might be especially helpful for brain health in people with obesity.

Small Study, Surrogate Endpoint

This is a fascinating study. Researchers evaluated the effect of HIIT and more moderate exercise on a marker of brain health – BDNF. It was a crossover study design. Each of the twelve subjects participated in both forms of exercise at different times. Half of the subjects had obesity and the other half did not.

What they found was a bigger effect on BDNF in people with obesity than in normal weight individuals. Based on this surrogate marker, HIIT seems to be doing more than a more moderate level of activity.

Stepping back, let’s keep in mind that this is just a small piece of a much bigger puzzle. It’s a small study of a surrogate marker – not an actual brain health outcome. It’s short-term. So don’t walk away thinking you’ve found a guarantee of brain health.

The Big Picture

However, it does fit into a much larger picture for the intersection of exercise and brain health. New physical activity guidelines affirm the value of brief intervals of intense physical activity. They’re not taking the position that one form or another is superior. But they are saying that even brief bursts are good. Just do it (as Nike has advised us for some time).

Nonetheless, a considerable body of literature tells us that HIIT can be especially valuable for health. It has favorable effects on cardiovascular health and fitness. Other studies have shown benefits for cognitive function.

So watch this space. HIIT is riding high right now and you can expect more evidence for its benefits to come along. Meanwhile. let’s keep moving.

Click here for the study and here for further perspective from the investigators.

Brain vs Brawn, image © Yau Hoong Tang / flickr

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December 11, 2018